Conservation Hospitality

A Congress that cannot get its act together in dealing with climate change should take its cue from the hotel industry. Substantial numbers of hotels today encourage lifestyle changes in response to the challenges posed by global warming. These hotels provide a wide range of environmentally friendly choices and services that were not available on their premises decades ago.

Throughout the industry, there has been a move to ingrain the conservation ethic and in the process, promote practices that reduce carbon emissions associated with the exacerbation of global temperature rise.

For lawmakers who have political inhibitions about getting to far out in front on climate change, the positive reaction of the general public to the hospitality industry's environmentally-corrective overtures should be reassuring.

Because its fate depends on the discretion of its guests, the hotel industry cannot afford to be heavy-handed in pushing for behavioral change. Hence, hoteliers have had to rely on guests voluntarily choosing the most environmentally responsible option.

It turns out that management need not have been so deferential. Most hotel clientele have opted for the in-house conservation programs when given the choice.

For example, the Green Hotel Association, founded in 1993 and boasting a membership of more than 2000, reports anywhere from 70 percent to 90 percent guest participation in its optional conservation programs.

And what might these programs entail? Some of their basic features are reuse of towels, dispensing with a daily change of sheets, and having guests take used toiletries home rather than discard them in the trash.

These voluntary actions along with installation of low-flow toilets and showers, motion sensors for controlling lighting in public restrooms and hallways, recycling bins, and where practical, solar panels, have produced significant savings in hotel energy and water use. To build on that, employees in many hotels have had to attend training programs on how to maximize energy efficiency.

Such conservation measures have not only reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but paid off financially for the participating hotels. The Green Hotel Association estimates its members lowered their utility costs by an estimated five percent as a result of conservation strategies. The Hilton chain reduced water consumption by 10 percent, energy use by 12 percent and carbon emissions by eight percent over a five-year period, resulting in environmental benefits as well as savings of $253 million in utility bills.

The enthusiastic cooperation of the public should allay congressional lawmakers' qualms about being associated with aggressive legislation incentivizing (and in some instances mandating) conservation in daily life.

If Americans are willing to voluntarily embrace a more conservation-oriented lifestyle when on the road, surely they should be receptive to engaging in the same behavior at home.